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«Exploring teacher effects in outcomes of a growth mindset intervention in seventh grade science Shumow, L., & Schmidt, J. A. Abstract This ...»

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Teacher involvement/role in mindset intervention. In discussing her role during the intervention, we asked Celia to use the first class period of each day in which the unit was implemented to familiarize herself with the lesson, what the students were asked to do, and what they were actually doing (recall that the intervention was done in 3 of Celia’s classes). Further, she was asked to use the next two class periods to review the logs that displayed students’ responses to the unit lesson, which were available to her through the teacher login. Celia did not use the class time in that way, however. She was frequently observed using the computer to catch up on record keeping. Each week of the intervention, however, Celia extended the Brainology unit in her science classes by using a supplementary lesson from the guide provided for teachers by Mindset Works, the developer of the Brainology program. She also responded to several individual students who had strong fixed mindsets. She chose one male student in particular as her own special project; he manifested an extreme fixed mindset and she was determined to change it.


Donna was invited to participate in the same way as Celia was. Donna played a more active role with students on the intervention days than did Celia by monitoring the class and encouraging student engagement. We have little evidence that Donna monitored the logs of students’ work in the program, even though this information was available to her. We did not observe her accessing it and she did not talk about it with us. The content of the program was not new to Donna and, as will be seen in the next section, she applied the content, using the vocabulary during her teaching. In contrast to Celia, Donna appeared to take little interest in the teacher guide provided.

Mindset feedback when teaching science. Analysis of field notes suggests that the two teachers differed in terms of the way they communicated with their students about goals, effort, evaluation, feedback, encouragement, and study strategies. The reader will recall that field notes were taken on an ordinary instruction day – not on a day when the Brainology program was a focus. The purpose of these analyses was to examine the degree to which each teacher was supporting a growth mindset outside of the designated ‘Brainology days.’ As seen in Table 4, Donna made more frequent references that could be construed as generally supporting a growth mindset by emphasizing the idea that ability can grow, focusing on mastery rather than performance goals, and highlighting the value of effort and strategy use. Moreover, on average, Donna referenced Brainology once during every class period (e.g. ‘remember, we are doing this to make more neural connections in your brain like we learned in Brainology last week’), while Celia made such statements infrequently.

Celia’s comments, while well-intentioned, are unlikely to promote a growth mindset. During the class periods we coded, she rarely mentioned Brainology explicitly or referred to a strategy mentioned in the program. She was generally supportive of her students, and genuinely wanted


to help them succeed, but her supportive comments did not emphasize effort. Rather than arming her students with strategies to help them complete their work as Donna did, Celia tended to alert students to whether particular tasks were ‘easy’ or ‘hard.’ Another example of undermining was that when Celia’s students were challenged academically, her reaction was to offer immediate assistance, rather than emphasize the importance of challenge and effort for learning. This might send the message to students that they are incapable of addressing these challenges on their own.

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Student Outcomes by Teacher In this study, we considered the role of the teacher in a widely used intervention to impact student mindset. There were significant teacher effects in that students’ beliefs about the malleability of intelligence, their learning goals, and their grades improved and/or were sustained more in one teacher’s classes than in the other. The positive results of the intervention at followup compared to the control group (Authors, 2014) appear to be largely accounted for by Donna’s students. Thus, we found evidence that the teacher is an important factor in the outcomes of a popular mindset intervention.

The findings are especially salient because the intervention with the students was implemented by researchers. The teachers received some brief education about mindset, resources for learning about and fostering mindset, and access to each student’s Brainology log.

Some teachers implement the intervention themselves and studies should be conducted to examine possible teacher effects in their students; it seems reasonable to assume that teacher influence would be an even greater factor in those cases than in this one.


Teacher Characteristics There were considerable differences between the two teachers in terms of years and breadth of teaching experience and their educational backgrounds. The impact of those characteristics on student motivation and achievement has been difficult to substantiate in largescale studies using general measures, but might be particularly important in specific contexts (Kennedy, 2010). In this small study, Donna, the teacher with more experience and education, was more effective in promoting growth mindset, mastery orientation and student learning (as measured by grades) than was Celia. Donna also was observed promoting greater student engagement (time on-task), as well as facilitating students’ conceptual development and growth mindset more than Celia. Our finding warrants continued fine-grained analysis of teacher characteristics and practices in the context of mindset interventions and expected outcomes.

In terms of teacher beliefs, both teachers had a strong growth mindset regarding intelligence in science on the survey measure. However, their practices reflected differences in the degree to which they promoted a growth mindset among their students. The teachers were very likely aware of the social desirability of endorsing a growth mindset, so the survey items might not have been an accurate measure of their beliefs. When it came to their beliefs about the motivational value of different practices, greater differences were found between the teachers.

Celia endorsed a greater number of performance-oriented motivational practices than did Donna.

For example, Celia reported to us at the outset of the study that she believed that comparing students to one another, emphasizing grades and points, and offering rewards for performance were all effective motivational strategies.


Instructional Practices Donna and Celia used similar instructional practices but differed in the way they communicated with their students about goals, effort, evaluation, feedback, encouragement, and study strategies. These differences are generally consistent with the differences in the two teachers’ beliefs about motivational practices noted above. Donna’s daily interactions with students implied an emphasis on mastery, learning, and growth more so than did Celia’s.

Whereas Donna more often promoted conceptual development, modeled and encouraged strategy use, Celia’s classroom was rarely characterized this way and her lessons rarely promoted deep understanding. Celia was quick to help her students when they struggled with tasks, but did not often suggest strategies for dealing with these struggles, which could send the message to her students that she lacked confidence in their abilities.

Though they did not assume primary responsibility for delivering the Brainology program due to the nature of the study, the teachers supported the program in different ways.

While Donna did not make much use of the program-provided supplementary materials, and did not often examine students’ logs, she was very much involved in students’ participation in the Brainology program itself. Celia, on the other hand made fairly regular use of the supplementary program materials, and occasionally consulted student logs, but she was completely uninvolved during the ongoing program itself. From the students’ perspective, Donna probably appeared to be more actively invested in the program.

Perhaps the most striking and impactful difference between the teachers was in their usage of mindset messages in their daily interactions with students. Donna interacted with her students in a way that promoted a growth mindset, while Celia did not. Even though Celia made greater use of the supplementary Brainology materials than Donna did, she failed to reinforce the


development of adaptive beliefs about learning in the comments she made to her students. These small daily interactions may make a critical difference in the degree to which classroom interventions are effective. Donna supported the program more consistently in her daily routine than did Celia. While it is impossible to support this conclusion empirically given the current data, we believe these daily reinforcements are the likely reason that the intervention was more effective for Donna’s students than Celia’s. The results suggest that teachers play a critically important role in supporting classroom interventions, and that program developers may want to

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Dweck, C. S. (2006). Is math a gift? Beliefs that put females at risk. In S. Ceci & W. Williams (Eds.) Why aren’t more women in science? Top researchers debate the evidence (pp. 47Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

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Dweck, C. S. (2010). Even geniuses work hard. Educational Leadership, 68(1), 16-20.

Good, C., Rattan, A., & Dweck, C.S. (2007b). Adults’ theories of intelligence affects feedback to males and females in math. Unpublished data, Columbia University, 2007.

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0.35 0.3 0.25

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*z scores


Table 2 Teachers’ Level of Endorsement of Effectiveness of Motivational Strategies

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Note. 1 = not at all, 3 = somewhat, 5 = very


Table 3 Observational Rating Scores for Celia and Donna

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Promotes Growth Mindset Approximately once per class Nearly twice per class

- Focuses on Study Skills Less than every other class Once every class

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